Don’t harm the swallows | Guest Column

by Sadie Bailey

Orcas Island

The swallows have returned late this spring; they’ll need to make up for lost time in building their nests. Aerodynamic wonders and superhero insect-eaters, swallows’ beautiful acrobatics are a joyful sight, lifting our winter-weary spirits and announcing that spring is finally here!

Before you pressure-wash their nests off your buildings because of ‘fear of poo,’ please read this and the provided links, and consider living in harmony with swallows so that future generations can know their wonders.

First, the “inconvenient” truth:

Swallows build above door ledges, under eaves and up high under roof peaks (for shelter purposes), where you can’t easily get a ladder to help protect the side of your building against their babies’ excrement and urination, which is merely messy as there isn’t a bad odor.

Below are some fascinating swallow facts from the Washington Fish and Wildlife “Living with Wildlife” website http://wdfw.wa.gov/living/swallows.html. This informative page includes conflict control methods – with pictures – and suggests creative ways to live with swallows and protect their nests from diseases and mites, and keep the walls of your buildings and the ground or decking below clean.

Regardless of rumors, swallows pose no health concerns to humans or pets.

Some facts

• Swallows are neotropical migrants; some fly up to 14,000 miles a year round-trip from South America, where all varieties spend the winter.

• With the increase in insect-borne viruses and diseases, swallows are a welcome natural insect control. These beneficial insectivores eat plenty of mosquitoes!

• Barn swallows build single nests in pairs, although there may be several nests under the eaves of a house. Cliff swallows build their nests in colonies (see pictures on fish and wildlife link)

• Swallows are federally protected under the 1918 Migratory Bird Act. There is good reason why these birds are federally protected, and we should gladly protect them locally too – for their help with insect control alone, if nothing else.

• The ONLY instances that are okay and legal to remove a nest are while swallows are first trying to build – with no adult swallow sitting, even in a half-built nest – and after the swallows have left for their southern migration. It’s good practice to destroy the nests every year in September so that other year-round birds like sparrows and starlings don’t move in and bully swallows out in subsequent years.

• If you see someone destroying a nest with a sitting swallow (eggs are likely already laid) or babies, please report it to Fish and Wildlife.

• If a baby swallow falls out of the nest, please call Wolf Hollow for advice or see the Fish and Wildlife handout, “Baby Birds Out of the Nest.”

Please hire someone to build nesting ledges or platforms and clean them annually, if you can’t or won’t do it yourself. This not only protects your buildings; it employs some of our islanders. Please consider ways to live in harmony with our miraculous and beneficial swallows. All swallow populations have been on the rapid decline (barn, tree, cliff) since the 1980s – some, like bank swallows, as much as 90 percent. Light pollution, artificial building materials, destroying sitting nests, and insecticide and herbicide use are some causes.

Read the story “Hard to ‘swallow’: The mysterious disappearance of Canada’s aerial insect eaters” at https://tinyurl.com/mbdcmdz.